Heatley gets his cake and gets to eat it, too

The Ottawa Citizen reported this weekend that not only has Ottawa Senators' soon-to-be-ex-winger Dany Heatley has not only demanded the team trade him, he's also given the team a list of teams he'd like to go to. And, thanks to the no-movement stipulation that was written into the six-year, $45M contract extension which was signed partway through the 2007-08 season. Which raises the question; Should a player who demands his team trade him away really have a say in where they trade him?

In this instance, the question is moot, because whether or not Heatley should have a say in where he's dealt, he does. It's in his contract, and, as much as it might seem like Heatley's renegged on his contractual obligations to the Senators, he hasn't. The NMC was written into the contract, so the Senators have two options: Enter training camp with a disgruntled player who has (through his agent) publicly stated his displeasure with the team he's playing for, or acquiesce to Heatley's demand and trade him for whatever the team can get to one of the teams he's deemed acceptable.

Really, though, isn't there something paradoxical about a player with a no-trade clause who goes on to demand a trade? And isn't there a very good reason why this paradox should waive any movement-related obligations the team in question, in this instance the Senators, has to the player? When a player with a limited movement  clause in his contract requests or demands that he be moved, does he not then forego his previously-agreed privelege?

When the Ottawa Senators signed Heatley to his deal, it was when times were great. The Senators had just finished the 2007 season as the Eastern Conference Champions and the Stanley Cup Finalists, and were off and running to the NHL's all-time best start as the 2007-08 season began. The Senators basically gave Heatley, who had just finished his second consecutive 50-goal season and tied for the league-lead in playoff scoring, anything he asked for in a contract--the long-term stability, the salary which would (at least for the 2008-09 season) make him the NHL's highest-paid player, and the security of a no-movement clause--as a sign of good faith to a player they'd earmarked as a cornerstone for the franchise. Then it all came crashing down. The Senators barely made the 2008 playoffs and were eliminated early, and didn't qualify for the 2009 playoffs. Heatley wasn't his best in either season. The team went through three coaches and a crapload of players before settling on Cory Clouston, the coach apparently at the centre of Heatley's problems due to their evidently impossibly conflictingly hockey ideologies. So Heatley asked to be traded from the Senators.

Personally, I've never been a fan of no-trade or no-movement clauses. They were bad in the old NHL, and are worse in the salary cap-weary new NHL, making an ominously large contract like Heatley's look exponentially more ominous. And it doesn't help that Senators GM Bryan Murray has been giving them out like candy, throwing cap-related caution to the wind while signing Heatley, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher, and Chris Phillips various limited-movement clauses in their already generous contracts. I do understand, however, that these clauses can be effective bargaining chips for GMs to use when hindered by salary cap concerns, but it's not really anything when the player or the team can just decide they're through with it.

There have been a few instances of teams getting sick of limited movement clauses in their contracts in recent NHL history. There are the instances of Mats Sundin and Bryan McCabe for the Toronto Maple Leafs, also for Dan Boyle and Filip Kuba of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and even Wade Redden when he was with the Senators. Although teams can and certainly should be entitled to ask a player whether or not he'd be interested in waiving his no-trade clause, applying undue pressure to that player--outwardly or tacitly through the media or other avenues--is not acceptable, and should not be accepted. Similarly, though, any player with a limited-movement clause should have to waive that clause without preconditions if he's going to demand movement.

The league has options in dealing with these problems. If a team is found to be exerting untoward pressure on a player with a limited movement clause, that team should be subject to appropriate punishment--perhaps a fine, payable to the NHLPA or some similar other party in the situation. And if a player with a limited movement clause demands he be moved, he should have his previous movement limitations revoked.

Even if the league does decide to adopt these measures, it won't help the Senators in their current search for a suitor for Heatley. Because their possibilities are further restricted, the Senators may--and probably will--be forced to leave the best trade offer on the table in order to satisfy Heatley's list of possible destinations. Hopefully Murray will be able to make the best of a bad situation, or it could set the franchise back years in development.

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